Sacrifices and opportunities: Life not too grim for former Force players

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    I wonder what Taniela Tupou thinks of the latest grumble from a former Western Force player.

    Two days after Tupou’s family home in Tonga was swept away by Cyclone Gita’s 200 km/hr winds, new Melbourne Rebels captain Adam Coleman was on Wednesday reiterating how his ex-Force teammates had sacrificed so much in moving from Perth to the Victorian capital to continue their rugby careers.

    “Just got off the phone with my brother from Tonga. Our house is gone already and the cyclone is not even there yet,” Tupou posted on his Instagram account.

    “Not exactly what I wanted to hear but much love to all my Fams back home.

    “Stay safe errbody.”

    Thankfully, Tongan Thor’s family – it seems his mother Loisi and four sisters live in a tiny village outside the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa – were unharmed.

    But it brought into perspective what Tupou has given up to be in his position – which in a global context is extremely privileged in itself (do you know that a person on the average Australian salary of about $80,000 puts them in the top 0.19 per cent of incomes globally).

    As a 16-year-old, he left Tonga to take up a rugby scholarship at Auckland’s Sacred Heart College. He was being chased by a few New Zealand Super Rugby sides, but after school moved to Australia as his brother was living in Brisbane.

    He rose through club rugby in Brisbane to land a contract with the Queensland Reds and the hulking prop’s rapid rise was rewarded with a Wallabies debut against Scotland at Murrayfield at the end of last year.

    He’s only 21. He’s got a massive future. His YouTube montage clips are frightening. And he can be grateful that rugby has opened up plenty of doors already.

    But as sacrifices go, to leave your family as a teenager and move to another country is daunting to say the least. Perhaps he had relatives already in New Zealand and a close school and local community that made it easier for him to settle in and thrive as a rugby player and young man.

    Regardless, he deserves respect for taking the leap. Quite a few Pacific Island youngsters tread a similar path to New Zealand and Australia trying to set up their professional sporting careers.

    Taniela Tupuo breaking a tackle against the Rebels

    (Credit: Sportography/QRU)

    Why do they do it?

    Well it can be a brilliant adventure for a start. And they’ve got great passion for the game.

    But a large part of their decision is based on the potential to not only chase some good coin for themselves, but often provide for their families who remain at home.

    The Nathan Hughes case is stark, and involves the reprehensible context of financial inequality between rugby nations that World Rugby should address.

    In late 2016, the No.8 spoke candidly before making his debut for England at Twickenham against the country of his birth, Fiji.

    It was because he could earn a match fee of around £22,000 per game – that’s A$38,000 per Test – for England as opposed to his beloved Fiji, where players get about A$800 per Test.

    Hughes could set up his family – and extended family – for life.

    “That’s the decision I made – I play my rugby to support my family and put shelter over their heads,” he said.

    Hughes, like Tupou, has made big sacrifices. Leaving your family at a young age with a lot of talent and plenty of hope takes a lot of guts.

    So why do the Force players still seem stuck on the sacrifices, and not on the opportunities ahead?

    Coleman spoke to the Daily Telegraph about the sacrifice of some players taking kids out of school in Perth, and with their wives moving to Melbourne.

    That’s – according to a recent survey – moving from the seventh most liveable city in the world to the most liveable city in the world.

    And I don’t want to seem cold-hearted and undersell sacrifices made by these Force players. Of course a lot of them would still want to be in Perth where they were established. But it happened almost six months ago.

    I can’t recall any Australian professional rugby player in the past signing a deal with another Super Rugby team, which means moving cities, and being as downcast as the Force players.

    Their industry is fast-moving and flexible. Things can change quickly for better or worse. Isn’t every new contract an opportunity to continue your career?

    Yeah, I know, they will argue that the Force were axed because of Rugby Australia mismanagement.

    Matt Philip Western Force Rugby Union Super 2017

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    But the Force couldn’t cut it. Results were poor. Crowds were down.

    I’d imagine Coleman, Pek Cowan and Matt Hodgson – a few of the ex-Force players who have spoken about the difficult times following the club’s Super Rugby chop – would rationally concede with a nod in agreement if you told them the local tomato cannery closed down because not enough people were buying tinned tomatoes.

    Or the local car dealership shut its doors because they didn’t sell enough cars. The Force didn’t sell enough. It’s as simple as that. Businesses thrive. Businesses fail.

    What happens to the bloke who has worked assembling cars at Ford or Holden for the last 20 years? There are no more jobs in Australia. The whole industry has disappeared. They have families and mortgages.

    The former Force players have probably all got good intentions. But maybe they’ve been emboldened by RUPA, Twiggy Forrest and a contingent of angry Force fans. There are plenty that aren’t Force fans too that believe the Rebels should’ve got the chop.

    Sure a lot of hard work went into keeping the Force alive. The players are tough men who put their bodies and minds through plenty. And there are sacrifices no doubt.

    They have resilience in bucketloads on the field. And the tragic death of Dan Vickerman, a father of two boys, was evidence professional sportsmen struggle with the transition away from their chosen field.

    But is it not legitimate to ask for a bit of perspective? Isn’t sacrifice the single mum working two jobs to provide for her kids?

    Isn’t sacrifice the soldier leaving his wife and kids for a six-month tour of duty? Isn’t sacrifice the parent who quits their job to be by their child’s hospital bedside as they go through chemotherapy?

    It’s been almost six months since the Force were cut. Only some have remained in Perth, Cowan and Heath Tessman among them.

    There’s sacrifice and there’s opportunity too. Can’t the Force players that have moved to the Rebels, Waratahs, Brumbies, Reds, Japan, France – wherever – just be grateful they’ve got another chance?

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (254)

    • February 16th 2018 @ 8:45am
      AJ said | February 16th 2018 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Indeed Will, most Australians have won the lottery in life and should be reminded of it more often.

      • February 16th 2018 @ 11:26pm
        In Brief said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:26pm | ! Report

        This article and your view expressed above demonstrate the hubris that I believe is destroying modern Australia. I remember in the early 90s when the destruction of Sydney was just commencing we were told not to complain, after all look at Paris and London. Now some 30 years later the comparisons more commonly used are Shanghai or Dubai. Pretty soon we will be told to suck it up, we are much better off than Nigeria, or Tonga as this article has stated.

        The author of this article, like our government, recommends you lower your expectations to meet the lower expectations that supposedly exist elsewhere in the world.

        • February 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm
          Internal Fixation said | February 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          Whilst your comment demonstrates the elitist western attitude that is prevailing now in Australia. A disposable society of kids stuck glued to their phones.

          • February 17th 2018 @ 11:03pm
            In Brief said | February 17th 2018 @ 11:03pm | ! Report

            My comment demonstrates the exact opposite. The idea that you should be content with what you have as it is worse overseas encourages people to stop caring, stop fighting, stop believing. Australian democracy itself is under threat as we speak and yet you are foolish enough to make glib comparisons to mobile phone usage. Only in Australia.

        • February 18th 2018 @ 1:58pm
          double agent said | February 18th 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

          The destruction of Sydney? When did that happen?

        • February 18th 2018 @ 3:29pm
          AJ said | February 18th 2018 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

          OK. I’ll stop seeking some balance and perspective for the ever decreasing conditions of my terrible life in this broken country that’s heading for third world status. I’ll trumpet my sense of what I’m entitled to and rage against any government that tells me otherwise. That should stop the destruction of modern Australia.

      • February 18th 2018 @ 2:05pm
        double agent said | February 18th 2018 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

        Every team has players that have moved from somewhere else to get the opportunity to play Super Rugby.

    • February 16th 2018 @ 8:52am
      rebel said | February 16th 2018 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      He’s disappointed that his team was chopped and through no fault of his own, has to move his whole family. he is allowed to state that it is not exactly what he wanted. Extrapolating that to Taniela is poor form and a cheap shot.
      As is this thorough analysis:
      “But the Force couldn’t cut it. Results were poor. Crowds were down.”

      • February 16th 2018 @ 9:04am
        Rhys Bosley said | February 16th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        Beat me to it rebel, it is an extremely cheap shot. The very simple answer as to why the Force players might look downcast so soon after having their lives turned upside down, is that they disagree with Will’s analysis about the Force and think that they were unnecessarily treated like dirt. Will is entitled to his opinion that the team had to go, but this article has the feel of an elated victor in a dispute enjoying twisting the knife to elicit that last bit of pain from the vanquished. Not very edifying for the writer.

        • February 16th 2018 @ 10:32am
          jameswm said | February 16th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          The thing is though guys – fundamentally these guys are – incredibly- lucky to be earning top coin playing a sport they love. many don’t realise what life is really like, for most of us plodding away.

          It’s a shame the Force were cut, don’t get me wrong. But these guys are still on big contracts living an amazingly privileged lifestyle. They need to put the disappointment of the Force being cut in context.

          • February 16th 2018 @ 11:12am
            rebel said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            Who says they haven’t? They have signed on, but they are still allowed to answer questions honestly.

            • Roar Rookie

              February 16th 2018 @ 11:45am
              piru said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

              It’s all so easy to tell people to get over it when your team is playing this weekend

              • Roar Guru

                February 16th 2018 @ 11:48am
                Train Without A Station said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

                Should be easier then! As a Reds fan I still have years (possibly even decades) of disappointment ahead of me. Tahs fans too.

                Think of it as being merciful.

              • February 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm
                jameswm said | February 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

                I’m not telling the fans to get over it.

              • Roar Rookie

                February 16th 2018 @ 12:03pm
                piru said | February 16th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

                james wasn’t aimed at you mate, just noting

              • February 16th 2018 @ 1:15pm
                jameswm said | February 16th 2018 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

                ok no worries

              • February 17th 2018 @ 12:30am
                Bob Wire said | February 17th 2018 @ 12:30am | ! Report

                Hear hear!

            • February 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm
              jameswm said | February 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

              Fair enough rebel, subject to what I said.

              • February 18th 2018 @ 12:30am
                Realist said | February 18th 2018 @ 12:30am | ! Report

                Has Pek Cowan been signed yet ?

                He was the one voicing opinions over suicidal players. It was this comment where it was obvious that some players lost perspective on what they are entitled too and what the governing body needs to do to ensure the survival of the code.

                Australian Rugby is still in a dark place but I genuinely believe the ARU made the right call in scrapping the Force. Terrible for the supporters, but those same supporters have to get their arms around the consistency of sub par performance over a long 12 year life span
                The quicker they get behind a new team the better and find the backbone and perspective to be grateful for the extended shot they had where they simply couldn’t achieve the bare minimum required to justify a proplonged stay at the top level

              • February 18th 2018 @ 11:08pm
                Ex force fan said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:08pm | ! Report

                You’re dreaming… I will not support a team that is 4,000 km from where I live. We have nothing in common with the Rebels side that is the cause of the ARU’S financial problems. The Force was sacrificed to bail out the Rebels in the dumbest decision of 2017.

          • February 16th 2018 @ 7:32pm
            Rhys Bosley said | February 16th 2018 @ 7:32pm | ! Report

            James, to add to the other comments, it is only the Wallabies who get the really big money. The average annual salary for a Super Rugby player in Australia is $225k, but you can imagine that when players like Folau and Pocock get over a million, the journeymen are getting a lot less. A rookie is on only $75k and a development squad just over $50k.

            That is all for a job where they have no security and a high risk of injury. You also have to factor in forgone seniority in whatever other career they would have been doing. For most of them the gig probably isn’t as financially good as having gone to work in the mines and playing club footy.

            So yes, being uprooted is a big deal for players in that position, especially those with families or partners who also have careers in Perth.

            • February 19th 2018 @ 10:51am
              ScottD said | February 19th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

              Spot on Rhys

      • February 17th 2018 @ 12:44pm
        ajg said | February 17th 2018 @ 12:44pm | ! Report


        this article is either [a] logical nonsense, or more likely [b] clickbait

        it is nonsense because to say that tupou has it tough in no way means that coleman and the force do not also have it tough. its a non-sequitur (in fact its a logical fallacy called relative privation)

    • February 16th 2018 @ 8:55am
      No said | February 16th 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      There is just so much wrong with your argument, it’s hard to know where to start.

      To compare a young Tongan leaving his family to play rugby to a team relocated against their wish is just ignoring context.

      • February 16th 2018 @ 9:53pm
        Mmmmm..k said | February 16th 2018 @ 9:53pm | ! Report

        I think it’s an attempt to give context.

        Many people shift to get jobs.
        Offer me what Coleman gets and I’ll move today.

        Many players switch clubs, move to Japan or Europe all the time so I don’t feel for the poor little rich kid tbh.

        So to give it context, cry me a river Coleman.

        I feel for the fans far more than the very well paid players that moved to Perth to play rugby in the first place.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 16th 2018 @ 8:57am
      Don said | February 16th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Just to make a correction; Thor was signed by the Reds straight from school. He had a QLD contract before he ever played a game for Brothers.
      He didn’t work his way up through club rugby to earn a Reds contract.

      His brother living here and his admiration of Quade Cooper saw him decide to play in QLD.

      Good article though. Very pertinent considering the “poor Force players being dudded” comments we’ve seen for the past few months.
      The long and short of it is; quality players will always be able to find a club to pay them somewhere. And if you want to be professional, like in any job, then choosing the city you ply your trade in may mean you accept less money or opportunities available elsewhere.

    • Roar Guru

      February 16th 2018 @ 8:59am
      Train Without A Station said | February 16th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      *Gets Popcorn*

      • Roar Rookie

        February 16th 2018 @ 11:45am
        piru said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        I’d get a lot TWAS, I’ve got a quiet day today

    • Roar Rookie

      February 16th 2018 @ 9:24am
      ForceFan said | February 16th 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Poor article. Poor comparison.
      Losing a house in a cyclone is what often happens on Pacific Islands.
      Very glad that no lives lost (as that can happen too).

      Nil recognition of the dirty deals around the numerous rescues and largesse shown by RA towards the Melbourne Rebels – as highlighted in the Senate Inquiry and may still be subject of ASIC action.

      Nil appreciation of the impact on the individuals and families of living/working under uncertainty for nearly 12 months when the assurances provided under the Alliance Agreement provided a future until 2020.
      Some players/families moved to Perth because of that certainty.
      There’s a big difference between having the freedom to move to having the necessity to move.

      Like it or lump it the Western Force was the 2nd best performing SR team in Australia in 2017 (same wins).
      (2 more wins than either Reds or Tahs and 5 more than the Rebels).
      Attendance at WF matches about the same as for the Brumbies and Rebels.

      Players who have stayed in the West have the chance of being part of the rebuilding of a professional rugby team in WA and rise above the general malaise of Super Rugby.

      BRING ON THE IPRC IN 2019!

      (Enjoy the popcorn TWAS)

      • Roar Guru

        February 16th 2018 @ 9:29am
        Train Without A Station said | February 16th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Many of this issues you bring up the Force would have put on numerous out of contract players in the past though.

        All that uncertainty is part of life of a professional athlete.

        The only difference this year is that more of the players were in the same boat.

        I also doubt any player moved to Perth because of the Alliance Agreement providing certainty of the Force’s existence. As that provides the player with no certainty beyond their contract.

        There are people that have actually been casualties of this. Nobody has mentioned these people though. The ones that may have been out of contract and have been left without somewhere else to go.

        It’s all about the big names that have been the most well looked after.

      • February 16th 2018 @ 11:06am
        jeff dustby said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        When your best result is a 2nd in the worst conference, once in ten years then you dont have much of a record

        • Roar Rookie

          February 16th 2018 @ 11:47am
          piru said | February 16th 2018 @ 11:47am | ! Report

          I’m absolutely astonished that Jeff has an opinion on this

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